I am beginning to think we may suffer from visual overload on this trip.
Driving south from Tok, AK, we arrived at the northern portion of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. I will be honest – I had never heard of this national park before arriving.
This is the largest national park in our system at approximately 13 million acres, is larger than some states, and could house Switzerland, Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks within its borders. Not sure how that would work…
Between Wrangell-St Elias and the adjoining Kluane National Park in British Columbia, ten of the top fifteen highest peaks in North America are located here, the tallest peak being St.Elias at a little north of 18,000 feet. Wow!
We spent 5 days camped on Nabesna Road within the northern section of the park, in a campsite that could more properly be described as a pullout, although it had a picnic table and a small rock fire ring. It was fabulous, with views 360 degrees! And there were hardly any people within the park. The park does not ascribe fees for camping here, so the price was right – we spent five days here for free. Keep in mind that you need to bring everything you need – no electricity, no water, no dumping. Think of it as “pack it in, pack it out” RVing.
OK, maybe there are SOME services…
Arriving in a bit of bad weather, we chose our site but could tell we were in for something special. Behind us was a range of beautiful, snow-capped mountains. These turned out to be the Mentasta Mountains. We thought we were in heaven.
In front of us were some smaller mountains, but nothing of particular note.
The next morning, with a little clearer view, we realized we had an entire mountain range in front of us, which turned out to be the Wrangell Mountains. They had not appeared when we arrived. I know this sounds silly, but we really could not see the mountains in front of us, due to low clouds.
With clearer skies, from our campsite we were able to see Mount Sanford (16,237), Mount Wrangell (14,163) and Mount Zanetti (13,009), just as notables; we could see a good swath of the Wrangell Mountains in front of us.
We took time on one day to hike the Caribou Creek Trail, a 7.4 mile hike from the parking lot, to trailhead, to mountain cabin and back. The views are spectacular, and along the way there are several places where the creeks are still frozen over. We crossed several ice fields that were at least 5 feet thick and probably thicker.
I finally got the boat wet! I went for a paddle on one of the many small and beautiful lakes here, right off Nabesna Road.
For wildlife, we did see a couple of moose while camped here. In one sighting there was a mother and her calf (can you find the calf?), and in another sighting the moose wouldn’t get out of the road!
With weather looking a bit sketch on one day, we took a drive out 42 mile long Nabesna Road, a road unpaved except for the first 15 miles, and particularly with rains there were parts where I was truly glad I had four wheel drive. This was a great drive, with great views as you can imagine,
You can’t just drive without sustenance! On our return drive we saw this place called the Sportsman’s Paradise, which offered pizza and beer. You had me at hello. We went in, sat down at the bar, and Doug the proprietor served us up with libations, food and a little wisdom and philosophy.
Doug has lived here forever, in a land where temperatures can drop to 30, 40, 50, 60 below (F)! He made a career catering to sportsmen who wanted to come up for hunting and fishing. As is common here in Alaska, he has his own airstrip.
As I mentioned, Doug shared stories and wisdom. He was sad for missing the funeral. “What funeral? I asked. The funeral for common sense. He was sure common sense had died and surely there must have been a funeral that he missed.
And having lived here all his life, and the national park only created in 1980, he offers up a little humor at the expense of the park.
Did you know moose antlers need to be 50 inches across or the game warden can take away the meat and possibly your gun? All kills need to be registered with the warden. If you are 150 yards away from a moose, how do you know the antlers are at least 50 inches and not 49.5? There is a way, but you’ll have to go see Doug.
I will leave you with a few more pictures from the northern end of the park before we head to the more southern, McCarthy Road area.